Arthur N.R. Robinson and the Power of One
by David Krieger, December 15, 2006
I believe in the Power of One, the capacity of a single individual to make an important difference in our world. In many ways, this may seem like an article of faith, rooted in hope. But, in fact, it is more than an article of faith, for there are indeed individuals whose lives have made a significant difference in improving our world. One such individual is Arthur N.R. Robinson, who has served as both Prime Minister and President of his country. He has had a remarkable and charmed life, and he has altered the course of history by his extraordinary leadership in the creation of an International Criminal Court.
In the 1980s, I became a supporter of the creation of an International Criminal Court, having been introduced to the idea by Robert Woetzel, a man who was also a close and long-time friend of President Robinson. I made many trips to the United Nations to encourage progress on this lofty idea of creating a court that would follow in the Nuremberg tradition of holding individual leaders to account for the commission of heinous crimes: crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Although it was clear that this was a much needed innovation to the international system of institutions, it seemed quite unlikely at that time that it would be possible to gain the requisite international support for this bold conception.
And yet, by 1998, the countries of the world gathered in Rome and established a Treaty to create this new Court, a court that would give life to the Principles of Nuremberg as we moved into a new century. It is certain that this essential innovation in international institution building could not have occurred were it not for a single individual, Arthur N.R. Robinson, who as the Prime Minister of Trinadad and Tobago put the United Nations on track to achieve this goal. Of course, many other people played important roles as well, but without this head of government taking bold action to put the matter on the agenda of the United Nations it could not have happened.
Some people believe that only the big and powerful countries can influence the international system and the course of history. They are wrong. Trinidad and Tobago, under the leadership of a man of vision and determination, led the way to the establishment of an International Criminal Court, an institution that holds the promise of restoring integrity to world affairs. President Robinson and Trinidad and Tobago should be justly proud of what they have accomplished. By this effort and accomplishment Trinidad and Tobago has earned a vaulted place on the international map.
A.N.R. Robinson, even as he enters his ninth decade of life, has not chosen to rest upon his laurels, as much as he may deserve to do so. Rather, he has recently accepted the responsibility to join the distinguished five-member Board of Directors of the Trust Fund for Victims of International Crime, and in that capacity he continues to play an important role in working for justice in the international system.
I wonder if the people of Trinidad and Tobago recognize how significant their contribution to building this new international institution has been. Perhaps they appreciate President Robinson’s efforts, but do they embrace these efforts with a sense of national pride? And, most important, do they join in the commitment to strengthening the structure of international criminal law so that the world may be spared future aggressive wars, genocides and crimes against humanity by having in place a mechanism to hold individual leaders to account for the commission of such crimes?
There remains an important role for the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago to play on this issue – both at the government level and also at the level of civil society – that is so critical for humanity’s future. I hope that the government of Trinidad and Tobago will not give up its efforts to further the system of international criminal justice represented by the International Criminal Court. Perhaps, though, the government of this country, like most governments, will need a push from below, from its citizens, if it is to rise to a higher plane.
I would like to propose that citizens of Trinidad and Tobago create a civil society organization that will provide creative ideas and assert public pressure for strengthening the International Criminal Court. The work of such a civil society organization could connect with the United Nations and with like-minded citizens throughout the world. It could carry forward the vision of A.N.R. Robinson and build upon his work. And I would hope that for many years to come he would be a wise and patient mentor to the youthful participants in such an organization.
There is much still to be done. Sadly, I must recognize that my country, a country of enormous economic and military power but presently lacking a sound moral foundation, has refused to join the International Criminal Court and has actively opposed it. The United States government has forced other countries throughout the world to sign bilateral agreements with it, stating that they will never turn over US citizens to the International Criminal Court, regardless of the crimes committed. This is a very different United States government than the one that supported and encouraged the Nuremburg Tribunals following World War II. It is a government that is unfortunately seeking to protect its own high authorities from scrutiny and accountability for their own wrongdoing.
We know that changing the world is not an easy matter. There is no magic wand. It takes the determination of great leaders of vision like A.N.R. Robinson, but it also takes the commitment and persistence of many people who join together for a noble cause. I think it would be extremely significant for Trinidad and Tobago and useful for the world to establish here the civil society organization I have mentioned with the purpose of forwarding the goal of an International Criminal Court that will be universal in its jurisdiction and by its legal force will raise the moral standards of humankind. Personally, I would like to see this organization originate in Trinidad and Tobago and be called, the A.N.R. Robinson Center for International Criminal Justice. It could be an institute within the newly established A.N.R. Robinson Museum, Library and Ethics Center that will be located in Castara on the island of Tobago.
A.N.R. Robinson’s life strengthens my faith in the power of an individual to make a difference in our world. He is a man of rock solid principles. Integrity and courage have been the hallmarks of his life and career. As a political leader, he understood clearly the need for all leaders to be held to high standards if we are to have justice. And thus, in pursuing an International Criminal Court, A.N.R. Robinson acted for the benefit of all humanity.
The number of people of whom this can be said is not large, and includes some of the greatest peace leaders of our time. I believe that it is a high badge of honor. At the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, we honored President Robinson with our Distinguished Peace Leadership Award in 2002, and he was kind enough to come to Santa Barbara to receive the award. This is only one of the many awards he has received for his efforts to establish an International Criminal Court.
When a man of such great accomplishments in the world as A.N.R. Robinson is kind and humble, it reveals a nobility of spirit. I feel very fortunate to count among my friends a man of such bright and noble spirit, sterling character and significant achievements as Arthur N.R. Robinson.
David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org
). He is a leader in the global effort for a world free of nuclear weapons.